Summary and book reviews of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd's sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other's destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women's rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful's cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

Hetty Handful Grimke

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, "Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind." My mauma was shrewd. She didn't get any reading and writing like me. Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy. She looked at my face, how it flowed with sorrow and doubt, and she said, "You don't believe me? Where you think these shoulder blades of yours come from, girl?" Those skinny bones stuck out from my back like nubs. She patted them and said, "This all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get 'em back."

I was shrewd like mauma. Even at ten I knew this story about people flying was pure malarkey. We weren't some special people who lost our magic. We were slave people, and we weren't...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title The Invention of Wings was one of the first inspirations that came to Sue Monk Kidd as she began the novel. Why is the title an apt one for Kidd's novel? What are some of the ways that the author uses the imagery and symbolism of birds, wings, and flight?
  2. What were the qualities in Handful that you most admired? As you read the novel, could you imagine yourself in her situation? How did Handful continue her relentless pursuit of self and freedom in the face of such a brutal system?
  3. After laying aside her aspirations to become a lawyer, Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hopes is "an all-female establishment." What makes her say so? What was your experience of reading Kidd's portrayal of women's lives in the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The relationships between the characters in The Invention of Wings and their struggles – both real and imagined – bring a deeply polarized time in American history vividly to life. This is a page-turning narrative, with intricate plot twists, by a truly riveting storyteller.   (Reviewed by Judi Sauerbrey).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

The book's scope of 30-plus years contributes to a feeling of plodding in the middle section...But Kidd rewards the patient reader.

Booklist

Starred Review. Inspired by the true story of early-nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké, Kidd paints a moving portrait of two women inextricably linked by the horrors of slavery.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This richly imagined narrative brings both black history and women's history to life with an unsentimental story of two women who became sisters under the skin - Handful, a slave in body whose mind roves freely and widely, and "owner" Sarah, whose mind is shackled by family and society.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Kidd's portrait of white slave-owning Southerners is all the more harrowing for showing them as morally complicated, while she gives Handful the dignity of being not simply a victim, but a strong, imperfect woman.

Reader Reviews
Becky H

THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd
Kidd’s retelling of the Grimke sisters and their fight for equality for women and the abolition of slavery is told with sympathy and fact. Although much of the story is fiction, Kidd manages to remain true to the real life story of Sarah and ...   Read More

Diane S.

The Invention of Wings
Where to start in trying to explain all the amazing things this novel contained. It is powerful, intense, profound and amazing in every way. The real life Gremke sisters, born into a family of wealth, on a plantation that of course had slaves, in ...   Read More

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Slave Quilts

Among the many unifying symbols in all the intertwining relationships that course through The Invention of Wings, one of the most important concerns is not another person but a quilt.

"This a story quilt," Mauma Charlotte tells her daughter Handful. "My mauma made one and her mauma before her. All my kin in Africa...kept their history on a quilt." Later, as Handful stitches the appliquéd squares together, she begins to understand just how much of her mother – her earlier life in Africa, her experiences with slavery – is in the quilt. "Mauma had sewed where she came from, who she was, what she loved, the things she suffered, and the things she'd hoped. She'd found a way to tell it."

In her book, Stitched From the ...

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